In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, it is said that Dumbledore has a

very odd watch. It had twelve hands but no numbers; instead, little planets were moving around the edge.

Philosopher's Stone, The Boy Who Lived (Ch. 1)

In DH, Harry is given Fabian Prewett's watch, which is quite the same except that it is dented on the back. Yet, "usual" watches work since Harry has one in GoF (even if it doesn't work anymore) :

Harry took off his watch, which he was only wearing out of habit, as it didn't work anymore [...]

Goblet of Fire, prior to the Niffler's lesson

So, why do wizards use those watches ? Is there any explanations on how does it work ? Is it more precise than our watches ?

  • 1
    I figure it's mainly just to reinforce the idea that they're different to everybody else. I'm not sure they're ever mentioned again. – Anthony Grist Feb 25 '14 at 15:21
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    Don't forget the grandfater clock the Weasleys have. – b_jonas Feb 25 '14 at 15:33
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    @b_jonas well, actually the Weasley's clock does not give the time of the day, right ? I was asking about time measurement only ;) – Falyna Feb 25 '14 at 15:36
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    Does Dumbledore's watch give the time of the day? I'm not sure in that. – b_jonas Feb 25 '14 at 15:43
  • @b_jonas well, at least it gives some time information, whereas Weasley's clock doesn't. – Falyna Feb 25 '14 at 15:44

We know that these watches can tell the time as, specifically for Dumbledore's watch, he uses it to determine that Hagrid is late near the start of Philosopher's Stone, when Hagrid was delivering baby Harry to Privet Drive.

There's no canon evidence as to how these work, or why they're used, but as watches are a technological product, and wizards tend to favour magic over technically, this would possibly explain the difference.

  • Watches were mechanical for centuries before there were any digital watches, and it's still easy to find watches that are purely mechanical. – Kevin Feb 25 '14 at 15:51
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    Mechanical watches are still technology though. That's what I meant. Wizards tend to do virtually everything with magic. – Moogle Feb 25 '14 at 16:05
  • Is there any EU evidence that they can be used for more than daily time? I.e. astronomy or astrology – vastra360 Feb 25 '14 at 20:26
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    @vastra360 - star movements are how they did precise time measurements back when. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 25 '14 at 23:30
  • Right, but then, why do they use these watches rather than "usual" ones ? And why 12 hands ? – Falyna Feb 28 '14 at 15:04

It is established in the novels that muggle technology does not work properly in the wizarding world. It's possible that if you had a winding purely mechanical muggle watch it would work but something with a quartz timer or a complex self winding mechanism would not work or only work intermittently.

Dumbledore probably wears an odd watch because he is an odd man who needs to keep track of odd things. He probably does some mental math to convert 'Saturn is half a rotation behind the second star ascendant' to '3:15 in the afternoon'.


Bear in mind as well that these 'watches' may not always be (purely) used for telling the time. Think magical smartwatch ! Mrs Weasley has a clock in the burrow that gives the location of her entire family. It looks like a clock but has a very different purpose.


Rowling referenced the oddity of wizarding watches several times throughout the series: first, in Philosophers/Sorcerers Stone, where she mentions Dumbledore's lunar-themed watch; second, in HBP, where Ron receives a new watch from his parents for his 17th birthday; and third, where Harry receives a "battered" watch which belonged to deceased Fabian Prewett, as a traditional coming of age present from the Weasley family.

Therefore, we can conclude that, because Ron and Harry, the only canon owners of these watches got them on their 17th birthdays, that they are a coming of age present for young wizards.

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